W. S. Merwin was able to speak to many people in his poems, his translations, his memoirs, and stories. After a lifetime of reading his work—always in wonder at each new collection—my sense is that he wrote from the same deep wellspring that led him to Hawai’i and Zen practice in the mid-1970s. He looked for and lived from the open source, the endless source of contemplation, care, respect, and imagination.
This January our editors are feeling especially filled with gratitude, in the present moment as well as looking back and forward. New Pages’ recent fine review of our Fall-Winter issue and of our short publication history acknowledges the skill and accomplishment of our contributors.
Much of this interview with Paul Hostovsky covers his initial fascination with the system of Braille and his ongoing study of the code that blind readers (and Paul) read with the pads of their fingers. (In his Leaping Clear essay, “A Different Digital,” Paul reveals his secret delight in reading Braille in spite of his being sighted.) We also discuss Paul’s work as a sign language interpreter for the Massachusetts Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.
It’s hard to believe that two years have passed since we began publishing works by artists and writers whose lives and art are informed by contemplative practice. We received hundreds of submissions for this issue and we want to thank all who contributed.
In the process of assembling all the pieces for this issue we discovered, purely by chance, that certain harmonic resonances began to arise between, say, this essay and that poem; this story and that image; this poem and that piece of music. It was as if we’d constructed a gamelan composed of poetry, prose, images, and sound. Sympathetic chords are struck on the themes of social justice, the transformative power of nature, the liberating effects of present moment awareness, and more.
As we continue into our second year of publication, we’re reaching more and more people who tell us that Leaping Clear’s celebration of the arts and meditative practices nourishes both their inner and outer lives. Thank you for joining us and for sharing the site.
We’re delighted to feature one of our favorite poets, Jane Hirshfield, in this issue. The power, insight, and beauty of her poems and essays amplify the deep place poetry holds in human history.
Wishing all of you a Happy and Peaceful and Joyful New Year! We’re leaping into the new year with new artists and writers and musicians from around the world. They’ll join us in the wonderful Spring 2018 Issue, March 20. The dedication and quality of these artists working in all forms continue to bring us insights and joy.
Thanksgiving Day always reminds me of how our lives are connected to so many others and to the innumerable conditions that sustain us: our loved ones and our societies, as well as the impersonal forces of life. Different spiritual traditions use different phrases for this.
Years ago, I was fortunate to attend the sweat lodges of Fred Wahpepah, a Native American elder of the Kickapoo and Sac-and-Fox tribes. Fred shared his great-hearted presence along with some of his sacred Native American traditions, including the Lakota phrase, Mitakuye Oyasin, which commonly translates as “all my relations.” This includes all of life: the life of humans, of all animals, the life of all plants, the life of water and earth and rocks and soil, the life of planets and stars.
It wakes us up—sometimes literally. I was shaken awake at six in the morning many years ago. The sun was just rising and the full moon setting. Through the east, west, and north windows I could see power lines snapping, arcing pale orange, violet, and blue. Smell the smoke. Hear the dogs howling and the sirens wailing from every direction. I was fortunate that my small wood-frame top-floor apartment on top of a small hill was far enough from the epicenter to survive the quake. Many in Los Angeles were not.
Most contemplative traditions recognize that dedicated art practice also expands our capacity for taking care, for paying attention, and for looking more deeply. Image- and text-based art forms, as well as song and dance, appear throughout the history of religions and mystic traditions.
On June 9 the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies will host a symposium on Practicing Art/Practicing Dharma. I’ll be attending that and am happy that this connection between art and meditation is now being more widely explored in Western Buddhism.
On April 22, 2017, Earth Day celebrations will take place in 193 countries, www.earthday.org. I find it encouraging that this recognition of our planetary environment now includes so many celebrations. The concept of Earth Day began with the intentions and actions of a few individuals just over four decades ago.
The several founders—scientists, teachers and professors, citizen activists, and politicians—were clear that this day was to include all species. No matter how large or small, including those invisible to unaided human eyes. Wherever the species were found: on, under, or above the earth. All the earth’s systems: the biosphere of the surface, the waters, and the atmosphere.
We choose the equinoxes as Leaping Clear’s issue dates for actual and symbolic reasons. The equinoxes are the two days in the year when daylight and darkness are about equal in both the northern and southern hemispheres.
This balance is brief, changing, and imprecise due to many technical factors of the earth-sun relationship. Yet, the equinoxes are dependable—occurring within a few days or hours of March 20 and September 22—at least within the arc of human history.
As a species, we’ve set aside certain dates to make resolves, to settle differences, to celebrate with festivals, and to renew vows of spiritual, ethical, and religious practice.
We call these the New Year, Nowruz, Holi, and many other names. We’ve been observing the earth and the skies and the tides and the revolutions of the seasons for millennia and creating calendars based on them that acknowledge our collective need to begin again.
Everyone who makes art and is touched by art begins again. These activities of art-making and appreciating art are embedded in us, part of our human heritage. This is true for each of us today.
Making art and contemplative practice are human birthrights, deeply encoded within each of us. Sharing them is also part of our fiber. I find myself reflecting on this again when the shadow side of human nature—our fear and anger—threatens to cover even the sun. Then I turn to the poets and artists, ancient and contemporary, and to contemplative practice.
I turn to the meditative practice of breathing with whatever arises to allow the natural compassion we also share as humans to arise from the silence and the intention to see clearly. I turn to these fundamental arts and practices because they are what has sustained us and allowed us to survive. I turn to them from the conviction of my own experience that, as an early Buddhist poem phrases it, “Never is hatred conquered by hatred,/but by readiness to love alone./This is the eternal law.”
We’re glad you’ve found Leaping Clear, the magazine that brings the arts and literature into focus with contemplative practices. We seek to present contemporary art in many forms by artists from many cultures and backgrounds. Likewise, we look to many contemplative and meditative traditions, from communion with nature to formal religious practices and philosophical reflections.
Our site’s name, Leaping Clear, is drawn from this phrase—“leaping clear of the many and the one”—from Dōgen Zenji’s poem/text “Genjō Kōan.” In English this title is sometimes translated as "Actualizing the Fundamental Point,” or “The Issue at Hand.” Dōgen lived in 13th CE Japan and practiced as a Zen Master who wrote poems and what might be called today hybrid texts: essays, talks, and lectures with elements of poetic language.